🇭🇷 CROATIA 🇭🇷
The Croatian Championship was established in 1941 in the independent state of Croatia. The Croatian championship was recreated in 1991 when the country gained independence. It has two legendary football clubs, Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb.
The ten best teams meet 4 times in the Croatian championship. At the end of the 36 matches, the 1st is crowned champion and qualifies for the Champions League. The 2nd, 3rd and winner of the Croatian Cup go to the Europa League. The last of the Croatian championship is relegated to the second division. In order to hold on, the 9th plays a play-off against the second in the second division in a return match.
After the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, Croatia and its footballers have had a chance to shine. Indeed, in the recent past, a generation of talented players has helped Croatia to shine on the international stage, and the young players seem to be on the right track to continue at the same level.
The first clubs in Croatia were founded in Zagreb in 1903 as the First Football and Sports Club and the Croatian Training Centre. The Croatian Football Association (HNS) followed the same path nine years later and took up residence in the same city on 13 June 1912, when teams from Istria and Dalmatia were not accepted because they were under Austrian rule.
Therefore, there were only teams from Zagreb (five in number) when the first Croatian championship started on 26 September 1912. But this first season was interrupted when the Austro-Hungarian Empire entered the First World War in 1914, and all sporting activities were suspended until the end of hostilities.
In 1918, after the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (in 1929 it was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), the HNS was incorporated into a neighbouring association, the Yugoslav Football Federation (JNS), which had been established in April 1919 and was based in Zagreb. However, controversy arose after a JNS assembly decided in October 1929 to move the federation’s headquarters from Zagreb to Belgrade.
The HNS was reformed in 1939 and then gained autonomy with the creation of the Football Federation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in August 1939, a confederate system that gave the HNS the right to organise international matches. The first such match was held in Zagreb on 2 April 1940, and Croatia won 4-0 against Switzerland. Yugoslavia disintegrated after the outbreak of the Second World War, leaving the HNS to operate within the independent state of Croatia, which became a member of FIFA on 16 July 1941.
Eventually, the People’s Federal Republic was born in 1945. But the change for the HNS was not radical, and it continued to operate in the People’s Republic of Croatia, one of the six republics of the new state. Croatian teams and players were successful when participating in European club competitions.
GNK Dinamo Zagreb, semi-finalists in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, reached the final of the Fair Town Cup in 1962/63 before winning the cup in 1966/67. HNK Hajduk Split reached the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup twice, the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup once and the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup once, while HNK Rijeka reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1978/79, and the same stage in the UEFA Cup in 1983/84.
On 8 October 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Croatia regained its independence. It became a member of the United Nations. The HNS renewed its membership of FIFA in July 1992 before joining UEFA on 16 June 1993. The Croatian national team quickly distinguished itself by reaching the quarter-finals at EURO 96, in its first appearance in a major international competition. They went one better at the FIFA World Cup two years later, finishing third after losing in the semi-finals to the hosts and eventual winners, France.
Croatia also qualified for the 2002 World Cup, UEFA EURO 2004, the 2006 World Cup, UEFA EURO 2008 (where they reached the quarter-finals) and UEFA EURO 2012. They finished third in their group, behind Spain and Italy. Most recently, they were finalists at the 2018 World Cup, losing to France 4-1 in Russia.
Croatian footballers have long made their mark on the world stage with the likes of Bernard Vukas, Vladimir Beara, Zlatko Čajkovski and Branko Zebec being part of the FIFA team at a memorial international in London in 1953. Dražan Jerković and Davor Šuker were top scorers at the 1962 and 1998 World Cups respectively, while Robert Prosinečki and Zvonimir Boban were crowned the best players at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Cup in Chile. And their successors have nothing to envy them: Luka Modrić (Golden Ball 2018) and Ivan Rakitić (Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona players respectively) are two of the best midfielders in the world.
Former players are now involved in important positions within their federation, including Davor Šuker, current president of the HNS.